THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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6 posts categorized "Norway"

07 November 2016

Knud Leem and the Sami People of Finnmark

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In a recently broadcast episode of the Sky Arts series Treasures of The British Library Professor Robert Winston looked at an 18th-century book from the King’s Library that includes some delightful images of Sami skiers.

Leem Skiing
Sami skiers. From Knud Leem, Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper, deres Tungemaal, Levemaade og forrige Afgudsdyrkelse. (Copenhagen, 1767) British Library 152.f.17.

In the illustration chosen, the skiers can be seen on a downhill run, one nonchalantly balancing a pole on his shoulder, the other manoeuvring his skis to break his descent. As the author Knud Leem (in the 1808 English translation of the original text) describes it, ‘by a certain wooden machine, of an oblong figure, fastened to their feet, commonly called wooden sandals, they are carried with such rapidity over the highest mountains, through the steepest hills …. that the winds whiz about their ears and their hair stands on end’.

Leem Titlepage
Title page of Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper.

The book in which the illustration appears, Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper, published in 1767, is a long and detailed (over 600 pages in the original) description of the Sami people of Finnmark  in northern Norway and was written by the Norwegian missionary and linguist Knud Leem who lived amongst the Sami for a number of years. The parallel text in Danish and Latin is accompanied by over a hundred illustrations by O.H. von Lode based on Leem’s descriptions, and together they provide a fascinating insight into how the Sami lived at this time. The subject matter ranges from the basics of everyday life such as shelter, clothes and food to reindeer herding, marriage customs and religion, the latter covering both the religion which Leem pointedly describes in the original title as that ‘previously’ practised by the Sami, and the Christian conversion which was the focus of his work.

Leem Reeindeer herding
Herding Reindeer. From Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper.

Leem’s father, also a priest, had worked in Finnmark for a number of years and it is probably from this family connection that Leem’s interest in the Sami people was originally awakened. He studied theology in Copenhagen (Norway was at that time part of the Danish kingdom and was yet to establish a university of its own) and while waiting for an appointment in the mission to become vacant, he spent two years in Trondheim learning the Sami language. In contrast to earlier attempts by missionaries to teach Danish to the Sami, Leem’s belief was that in order for missionary work to succeed, he and future missionaries needed to be able to communicate with the Sami in their own language. He writes that in this way ‘… a much greater progress in the salutary knowledge of the true God is made’. During the years he spent in Finnmark from 1725 to 1733, he would preach and conduct services in the Sami language, at times in the open air.

Leem Preaching
Conducting a service in the open air. From Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper.

As well as his ethnographic work on the Sami people, of which there are three copies in the British Library, Leem also wrote a Sami grammar (En lappisk Grammatica, 1748), a Danish-Sami dictionary (En lappesk Nomenclator, 1756) and an extended Sami-Danish-Latin dictionary (Lexicon Lapponicum bipartitum, 1768-81, the second part of which was completed by Gerhard Sandberg and published after Leem’s death). Copies of the grammar and of the first dictionary form part of the Hannås collection, a collection of Scandinavian linguistic material donated to the British Library in 1984 by the antiquarian bookseller Torgrim Hannås. The Leem titles from this collection have now been digitised and are available online through our catalogue.

Leem Nomenclator titlepage
En lappesk Nomenclator
(Trondheim, 1756) Han.135 

The other substantial piece of work for which Leem is remembered today also has a Hannås connection. It is a study of Norwegian dialect words, Norske Maalsamlingar fraa 1740-aari, which was only published many years after his death, in 1923. The editor of that work was Torleiv Hannaas, a professor at Bergen University and father to Torgrim Hannås. The bookplates of both these distinguished book collectors, father and son, appear in our copy of Leem’s Grammatica.

Leem Hannas bookplate
Bookplates in En lappisk Grammatica (Copenhagen, 1748) Han.110

Knud Leem’s contribution to the area of Sami studies, both linguistic and ethnographic, continues to be important and recognised to this day.

Leem Sami couple
Sami couple in traditional dress. From Beskrivelse over Finmarkens Lapper.

Barbara Hawes, Curator Germanic Studies

References and further reading

Knud Leem, An account of the Laplanders of Finmark, their language, manners, and religion.
(London, 1808) L.R.80.c.1

Knud Leem og det samiske : foredrag holdt ved et seminar i regi av Det Kongelige Norske Videnskabers Selskab 11.-12. oktober 2002. (Trondheim, 2003) Ac.1060(2)[2003,No.2]

Professor Knud Leems Norske Maalsamlingar fraa 1740-aari-handskr. nr. 597. 4to i Kallske samling. Ed. Torleiv Hannaas. (Kristiania, 1923) Ac.5561/27

Treasures of the British Library will be broadcast on Sky Arts at 21.00 on Tuesdays until 22 November 2016.

 

19 October 2015

The Goats that Got Away

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As one of the co-curators for our current Animal Tales exhibition, one of the most enjoyable parts of the process was selecting the exhibits.  An opportunity to spend time exploring the collections, to revisit the known but also to make new discoveries, is a stimulating part of the work.  One of the frustrations was that, with such a broad subject area, we were not able to include all the items we might have liked.  There were inevitably some that ‘got away’. One such, a personal childhood favourite, was the story of the Three Billy-Goats Gruff. It comes from the compendium of Norwegian folk tales collected and edited by Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe in the 19th century.  These tales are much-loved classics in Norway, printed in many editions over the years. 

Billy Goats Gruff Folkeeventyr cover                     Detail from the cover of the 1874 edition of Norske Folke-Eventyr (Christiania [Oslo], 1874) 12430.dd.6                 

The story’s original Norwegian title in full (a bit less snappy than the English one we know) was De tre Bukkene Bruse, som skulde gaa til Sæters og gjøre seg fede which roughly translates as ‘The three Billy-Goats Gruff who were going to mountain pastures to fatten themselves up’.  ‘Bruse’, which is the name of the goats, was translated as ‘Gruff’ in the first English version, and this translation has stuck ever since but in fact the word refers to the hairy tuft on a goat’s forehead, as shown on the splendidly regal goat below, illustrated by Otto Sinding  in an 1896 edition. 

Billy Goats Gruff GoatIllustration from Norske Folke- og Huldre-Eventyr  (Copenhagen, 1896) 12431.f.44.  

The story was originally published in Christiania (as Oslo was called at that time) in 1843 in the third of four parts of Norske Folkeeventyr (Norwegian folk tales). 

The first English translation came in 1859 in Popular Tales from the Norse by G. W. Dasent.  It was also included in the shorter, illustrated edition in 1862, A Selection from the Norse Tales for the use of children.  From an introductory note in this edition it becomes clear that the subtitle ‘for the use of children’ has been very deliberately chosen. Dasent muses regretfully  that ‘this selection has been made to meet the scruples of those good people who thought some of The Norse Tales too outspoken for their children’. Luckily for us, The Three Billy Goats Gruff was not one of those considered unsuitable for Victorian tastes and, unlike most of the stories in the collection, it has continued to enjoy popularity in this country down to the present day. 

Billy Goats Gruff Dasent                   Illustration from A Selection from the Norse tales for the use of children  (Edinburgh, 1862) 12431.d.29.

Like many of the items featured in Animal Tales, this is a story about animals that allows the teller and the listener to explore some very human situations and emotions. The Three Billy Goats Gruff has echoes of other European folk tales of the time on a very similar theme, such as the Grimm brothers’ Little Red Riding Hood: in essence it is the story of a journey during which the protagonists pass from danger to safety. 

Billy Goats Gruff Troll                                             Illustration from Norske Folke- og Huldre-Eventyr  (12431.f.44)  

And the story itself?  The action unfolds as follows: three goats of different sizes, small, medium and large, have to cross a bridge on their way to pasture.  Under the bridge lurks a fearsome troll intent on gobbling them up.  The first two goats get over by promising bigger goats to come.  The final, largest, goat confronts the troll and sees him off in style, with the following words (in Dasent’s lively translation):

Well, come along! I’ve got two spears,
And I’ll poke your eyeballs out at your ears;
I’ve got besides two curling stones,
And I’ll crush you to bits, body and bones

So what made the story so appealing to my younger self?  In part it was the satisfaction of the goats outwitting the troll, in part it was the structure of the plot, simple, but with clever use of repetition (the presence of ‘three’ being a recognised feature of folk tales).  I remember too what fun it was to hear the story being read aloud. This is, after all, a story that was preserved for many years as part of an oral tradition.  The narrator can do a lot with the goats’ voices which are described as rising in volume according to the size of the goat. Stamping one’s feet to echo the sound of the goats tramping over the bridge and joining in with the roar of the troll, brings a mounting intensity to the story which culminates in the thrill of the troll’s resounding defeat!

Barbara Hawes, Curator Germanic Collections

 

16 May 2014

“May its birthday always be celebrated…”

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Every year on their National Day, the 17th of May, Norwegians remember the signing of the Norwegian constitution in 1814.  This year the festivities are particularly special as they will mark the 200th anniversary. 

Norway Constitution1(BH)
Cover of an 1837 edition of the Norwegian Constitution.  Kongeriget Norges Grundlov, tilligemed en Samling af de Lovbestemmelser der nærmest omfatte Norges constitutionelle og unionelle Stilling. British Library 1378.a.5.

1814 was a key year in Norway’s history. Until then, Norway had been part of the Danish kingdom but under the Treaty of Kiel, Denmark had been forced to cede Norway to Sweden.  This unilateral ‘transfer’ of their country was met with resistance by many Norwegians and, led by Prince Christian Frederik of Denmark, a number of prominent Norwegians convened an assembly at Eidsvoll.  112 representatives were sent from all over the country and a constitution formulated in just over a month.   Independence was declared and Christian Frederik elected King. 

Eidsvoll_1814
‘Riksforsamlingen på Eidsvoll 1814’ by Oscar Wergeland.  Image from Wikimedia Commons

Oscar Wergeland’s painting of the Eidsvoll assembly now hangs in the Storting (the Norwegian Parliament), behind the speaker’s chair.  This image is one of the best known historical paintings in Norway, having been reproduced on stamps, bank notes and commemorative memorabilia.  It is often accompanied by the words ‘Enig og tro til Dovre Falder’.  Meaning ‘United and true until Dovre falls’, it was an oath taken by those men who formulated the constitution, swearing that they would remain as constant as the Dovre mountain range. 

The events of the rest of the year were no less momentous.  Following a Swedish attack on Norway in July, Christian Frederik was forced to step down but not without securing a promise for the constitution to remain.  In November 1814 Norway entered a union with Sweden which lasted until 1905.  The constitution was amended to reflect the union but remained more or less unchanged.  

In today’s Norway, 17 May is a public holiday, a day of parades and parties. In town centres up and down the country children process through the streets to marching bands. Participants are often colourfully dressed in their bunad (local costumes). In Oslo the parade takes place on Karl Johan’s gate, and culminates at the Palace, where, members of the Norwegian Royal Family wave to the children from the balcony.

800px-Oslo_17_mai_2010
Children celebrating 17 May. Picture by Evelina Gustafsson from Wikimedia Commons

Although Norway doesn’t officially have a single national anthem, the one that is in practice regarded as such, Ja vi elsker dette landet (‘Yes we love this country’), features prominently in the celebrations.  The words were written by the Norwegian Nobel Prize-winning writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson  and the music composed by his cousin, Rikard Nordraak. It was first performed in 1864 during the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the signing of the constitution. 

Ja vi elsker dette landet
Cover of  ‘Ja, vi elsker dette landet’ (Oslo,1888)  g.352.zz.(18.)

The British Library’s Norwegian collections include many interesting items relating to the 1814 constitution. Not least the works of Henrik Wergeland, the writer and early human rights activist, who perhaps more than any other single person is associated with 17 May in the minds of Norwegian people. The son of one of the original members of the Eidsvoll assembly, he championed the right of Norwegians to celebrate the day at a time when it was seen as act of rebellion against the Swedish union. He also wrote a history of the Norwegian constitution. Before he died, he left behind a silver cup with instructions that it should be used in future celebrations of the day at Eidsvoll:

“Long live freedom! May its birthday always be celebrated at the place where it was born!”

Barbara Hawes, Curator Scandinavian Studies

  Norges Konstitutions Historie(BH)

Title page of Henrik Wergeland,  Norges Konstitutions Historie  (Oslo, 1841-43)  1437.d.9.

09 April 2014

Who or what were ‘the Vikings’?

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Interest in ‘the Vikings’ seems boundless, and the current Viking exhibition at the British Museum  makes the subject particularly topical. Googling ‘Viking’ produces forty-seven million hits –  though most of them may be for computer games or brand names  –  and a search on our catalogue under vernacular forms of the term produces over 250 titles in Scandinavian languages and thousands more in English, with dozens of the latter published this year already in the BL catalogue. Beyond that narrow focus, however, the holdings of the British Library are very rich in printed materials, from the 16th century to date, relating to pre-Christian Scandinavia.

A recent article in the Evening Standard by the great medievalist David Dumville aimed to counter the ‘revisionist’ and ‘politically correct’ views that have “covered up the crimes of a bloody era” during the past half-century. He admitted that “Vikings are in general not coterminous with Scandinavians” yet capitalised the word as if it were an ethnic label – as misleading as using ‘Cowboy’ or ‘Cossack’ to describe the entire cultures of the USA or Russia, from their art forms and technology to their political systems and modes of warfare. The ancient Scandinavians’ name for themselves was ‘Northmen’ and for their language and culture ‘Norse’ (norrœn).  

Of the two Old Norse nouns víkingr (m.) and víking (f.), the first meant ‘pirate or sea-rover’ (OED),  the second an overseas plundering expedition. Their etymology is contested but related to the noun vík, ‘bay’, or the verb víkja, ‘to turn away’ etc., referring either to people from a bay area  –  such as the Vik region around the Oslofjord (though its inhabitants were called víkverjar, not víkingar)  –  or to those who ‘set out’ on raiding voyages. But such ‘vikings’ formed only a fraction of the Norse peoples.  Overseas trading voyages had been undertaken long before then, for instance by the peaceful  ‘farbönder’ of Gotland, while the fact that travel by boat was so much faster than overland was the basic reason why so many Norse groups lived near and moved around on water. Will scholars ever agree to stop using the over-worked term ‘viking’?   

Raiders
Carelian raiders. Illustration from Olaus Magnus, Historia de gentibus  Septentrionalibus, bk 11, ch. 7 (Rome, 1555)  British Library 152.e.9.

The causes of the increase in overseas raiding around 800 were both external and internal. The main external one was the expansion of the Carolingian empire, its threatening proximity provoking aggressive reactions. The major internal factor was technological, the rapid development of open-sea sailing ships at that time.  (The best surviving examples are the beautiful Gokstad and Oseberg vessels  –  displayed in the Viking Ship Museum  in Oslo.)  Another was the breakdown of a centuries-old social system in increasingly violent power struggles among the elites that eventually reduced the number of kingdoms in Scandinavia from dozens to the three still existing ones.  

Oseberg_ship_-_IMG_9129
Oseberg ship, built around 820, buried 834, now in the Viking Ship Museum, Oslo (Picture by Daderot from  Wikimedia Commons)

An aggressive warrior ethos – already vividly described in the Old English Beowulf  poem, preserved in the British Library – saw raiding and pillaging as a perfectly honourable pursuit, enriching the participants. Change came only with the adoption of continental Christianity and feudalism, which no longer permitted unprovoked attacks on co-religionists. When the neighbouring Slavic, Finno-Ugrian and Baltic peoples likewise converted, the now christianised Norse elites  –  after a short period of ‘crusading’ around the Baltic  –  simply ran out of legitimate targets.  


Peter Hogg, former Head of Scandinavian Collections


Recommended reading:

Stefan Brink and Neil Price (eds), The Viking world (London, 2008) YC.2009.b.524
Gareth Williams, Vikings: life and legend (London, 2014) Catalogue of the British Museum exhibition
Saga  book of the Viking Society for Northern Research (London,  1892-  )  Ac.9939; volumes to 2011 are also available online at http://vsnrweb-publications.org.uk/
Proceedings of the Viking Congresses (quadrennial since 1950). Volumes catalogued separately. See also: http://www.vikingcongress.com/
Viking and Medieval Scandinavia  (Turnhout,  2005-  )  9236.374400

31 January 2014

Libraries can change your life: the peregrinations of Ludvig Holberg

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There is no surer way to arouse controversy in theatrical circles than to adapt a well-loved work of literature for another medium, as the heated response of Tolstoy, for example, to Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin indicates. The uproar which greeted a similar endeavour in Denmark in the early 20th century is perhaps less well known in British circles. However, when it was revealed in 1906 that Vilhelm Andersen, a literary historian, was working with the composer Carl Nielsen on an opera based on Ludvig Holberg’s comedy Mascarade, the project was regarded by many as sacrilege.  

Holberg (3 December 1684-28 January 1754) is one of the foremost figures in the history of Scandinavian literature, and, as the creator of the classic character comedy, might be termed the Molière of the Danish theatre. Several of his comedies remain in the Danish standard repertoire, including Mascarade, his contribution to a debate on public masquerades in the newly-built playhouse in Copenhagen’s Grønnegade, which opened in 1721 under his directorship.

Abrakadabra (Holberg)
A scene from Abracadabra, one of Holberg’s many comedies. Image from Holbergs Gallerie. Förste Hefte (Copenhagen, 1828). British Library 1601/650.

Holberg was not, however, only a playwright, though the humour of many of his plays, such as Kjærlighed uden Strømper (‘Love without Stockings’) and Jeppe paa Bjerget(‘Jeppe of the Hill’) still retains its freshness and vigour. Born in Bergen, Norway, he was orphaned by the age of eleven and, after studying in Copenhagen, earned his living as a private tutor and by giving lessons on the flute and violin during his travels which, in 1706, took him to London and Oxford.

His visits to Oxford University’s libraries inspired him to become an author, and in 1711 he published his first work, Introduction til de Europœiske Rigers Historier (‘Introduction to the history of the nations of Europe’), of which the British Library possesses a copy of the expanded 1757 edition (shelfmark 1308.a.7).

Funded by a grant from King Frederick IV, he travelled throughout Europe (1714-16), but the title of Professor which accompanied the award did not guarantee him an income, and it was only in 1718, after years of poverty, that he was appointed Professor of Metaphysics and subsequently of Public Oratory at the University of Copenhagen. He had previously written only on law, philology and history, but in 1719 he published his heroic-comic poem Peder Paars, widely regarded as the first classic of Danish literature (the British Library holds the 1772 edition at 85.g.11).

Until the 1720s French and German had been the only languages in which plays were performed in Denmark, but in 1722 a Danish translation of Molière’s L’Avare was staged at the new theatre, rapidly followed by a series of original comedies by Holberg himself – concluding, alas, with a ‘funeral of Danish comedy’ which he composed for the final performance before the theatre closed in 1727 as a result of financial problems.  The great fire of 1728 put an end to his hopes of seeing any of his later plays performed in Copenhagen, and he returned to prose works, including the satirical fantasy Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum (‘The underground journey of Niels Klim’).

Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum (Holberg)
Titlepage and frontispiece from Holberg’s, Nicolai Klimii Iter subterraneum novam telluris theoriam ac historiam quintæ Monarchiæ adhuc nobis incognitæ exhibens e Bibliotheca B. Abelini (Copenhagen, 1741) 1079.g.14.

Nielsen’s Mascarade is now famous as Denmark’s national opera, which would have delighted Holberg, a strong believer in the potential of comedy as a means of spreading Enlightenment ideas about equality in the language of the people: ‘as long as the masquerade lasts, the servant is as good as his master’.

Susan Halstead  Curator Czech, Slovak and Lusatian.

04 September 2013

Henrik Ibsen and London - then and now

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This September will see the opening of not one, but two, productions of Ibsen’s Ghosts in London, the first at the Rose Theatre (co-produced with English Touring Theatre) and a week later at the Almeida Theatre. Add to that an adaptation of Hedda Gabler by the Ibsen Stage Company at the New Diorama Theatre, entitled Recording Hedda, and the continuing and very successful Young Vic production of A Doll’s House – now transferred to the Duke of York’s Theatre – and it will be a month of autumnal delight for Ibsen enthusiasts in London!

However it is interesting to remember that the initial reception given to Ibsen in Victorian London was somewhat mixed - a source of delight for some but for others, moral outrage.   

It was Edmund Gosse, poet, author, critic and one-time librarian at the British Museum, who was first responsible for bringing Ibsen to the public’s attention in Britain. In an article in The Fortnightly Review in January 1873 entitled ‘Ibsen, The Norwegian Satirist’, Gosse predicted that the plays ‘sooner or later, will win for their author the homage of Europe’.

The critic and translator William Archer was probably Ibsen’s greatest champion.  His reviews and articles on Ibsen, as well as his translations, were key to making the dramatist better known and understood in Britain. Quicksands, Archer’s adaptation of Pillars of Society, was the first of Ibsen’s plays to be performed in England - at the Gaiety Theatre in 1880. The neutral reception of this performance gave little indication of the great controversy around Ibsen’s plays - in particular their examination of the conflict between the individual and society - that was to follow. 

Archer and Ibsen
‘Henrik Ibsen receiving Mr William Archer in Audience’. Cartoon by Max Beerbohm. (Image © Museum and Study Collection at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, reproduced by kind permission)

A Doll’s House at the Novelty Theatre in June 1889 was the first substantial production of an Ibsen play in England and it provoked the start of a heated debate. Clement Scott, theatre critic for The Daily Telegraph, was one of Ibsen’s fiercest opponents. In common with many, he questioned the motives of the central character, Nora, in abandoning her children at the end of the play. In 1891, further outraged, he described Ghosts as ‘positively abominable’ likening it to ‘an open drain’, ‘a loathsome sore unbandaged’ because it dealt with topics one would not expect to be addressed in the theatre of the time - such as venereal disease and euthanasia. 

Ibsen and his plays continued to generate a great deal of interest and discussion. As Henry James observed, Ibsen had become ‘the theme of many pens and tongues… a barometer of the intellectual weather’.  Bernard Shaw was a lively defender of Ibsen, and his work, The Quintessence of Ibsenism (originally a lecture for The Fabian Society) first appeared in June 1891 at the height of the Ibsen ‘storm’. Shaw focused on Ibsen’s plays as a means of exposing middle-class hypocrisy, writing that ‘the statement that Ibsen’s plays have an immoral tendency, is, in the sense in which it is used, quite true. Immorality does not necessarily imply mischievous conduct: it implies conduct, mischievous or not, which does not conform to current ideals.’

A number of English actresses became famous for their portrayal of Ibsen’s female characters.  Of particular importance was Elizabeth Robins who co-produced and played the lead role in the first British staging of Hedda Gabler.  When it opened in April 1891, it was described by a Sunday Times critic as ‘one of the most notable events in the history of the modern stage’ and was influential in winning round Ibsen sceptics.  In 1928, the centenary of Ibsen’s birth, she gave a lecture entitled ‘Ibsen and the Actress’, in which she reflected on how ‘no dramatist has ever meant so much to the women of the stage as Henrik Ibsen’. 

Elizabeth_Robins_by_W&D_Downey,_c1890s
Elizabeth Robins, London’s first Hedda Gabler (Albumen print by W&D Downey, ca. 1890s, Image from Wikimedia Commons)

Edmund Gosse would surely have been pleased that his prediction on Ibsen’s standing in Europe was correct, and that it remains so 140 years later.  And I like to think that he would also have been pleased to know that the British Library, the successor to the institution for which he worked, now has such rich holdings of material relating to Henrik Ibsen.   These include first editions, translations, manuscript letters, recordings of play performances, as well as a veritable wealth of secondary literature.   

Barbara Hawes, Curator Scandinavian Studies

Ibsen on the World Stage

‘Ibsen on the world Stage’, Drawing by Alfred Schmidt in Hver 8. Dag (1898). (Image from the National Library of Norway)

References:

Edmund Gosse, ‘Ibsen, The Norwegian Satirist’ in The Fortnightly Review, January, 1873. PP.5939.c

Henry James, ‘On the Occasion of Hedda Gabler’ in New Review, June 1891.  P.P.6004.gmg

G. Bernard Shaw, The Quintessence of Ibsenism. (London, 1891) 011824.g.15

Elizabeth Robins, Ibsen and the Actress.  (London, 1928) 012359.b.4.a/15.